Friday, October 29, 2010

Star Fox 64: The Greatest Game Ever Created

Okay, so the title of this article may be debatable, but every other opinion would be wrong, so stuff it.  But seriously, Star Fox 64 is an amazing game and if you don’t agree, you’re an idiot.
I won’t talk about what this game means to me on a personal level, because that isn’t conducive to my goals of persuasion and education; opinions are fact homey. But this article will outline the merits of Star Fox 64 and why you should buy it, emulate it, or steal it if you haven’t played it in your life.
Let’s start with the plot of the game.  Something fishy is going down on the planet Venom, where Andross, an evil scientist has been exiled.  When the Star Fox team is sent to find out what kind of crazy mumbo-jumbo is happening, one of the team, Pigma Dengar, turns on his crewmates James McCloud and Peppy Hare.  James and Peppy are subsequently captured by Andross (one can assume that they were beaten, tortured, and probably probed in uncomfortable areas).  Peppy is able to escape, but James is not so lucky.
Fast forward a few years: Andross is waging war on the entire Lylat system and the new Star Fox team, consisting of Peppy Hare, Slippy Toad, Falco Lombardi, and James’ own son Fox, are sent to investigate.  The player takes control of Fox McCloud, obviously interested in avenging the death of his father.  Apart from the regular baddies, the Star Fox team meets with their rivals Star Wolf, of which Pigma, that backstabbing porky pig, is a member.   The Star Fox team will travel to different planets fighting Andross’ evil minions and eventually end up on Venom to face the evil scientist himself.
First thing’s first. As you can see from the above paragraphs, this game begins at the level of epic and only grows from there.  For one, you are battling across an entire solar system in what will be called the Lylat Wars (interestingly enough,  “Lylat Wars” was the title of the game in Europe and Australia).  Also, this was the first game to utilize the Rumble Pak accessory for the N46, which really added realism to being shot in the exhaust pipe.  Along with this, you have a plethora of enemy ships and giant bosses to destroy, and a rival gang whose members include the swine responsible for the death of your father.  This game would make one hell of a movie! Much better than Doom, at least. 
            The battle system is awesome in Star Fox 64.  Each planet is designed in a fairly linear way, but the doesn’t deny the player opportunities to make choices of which path to take.  Also, the order of planets can be altered depending on certain choices and number of kills that the player makes.  A certain path must be taken in order to defeat the real Andross in the end, but that’s up to you, fool.  When it comes to the basic enemies on each planet, the developers could have taken the easy route and had every single one be the same, but no, there exists a grand amount of enemy ships to explode with your lasers.  This goes double for the bosses.  Rather than being carbon copies that must be destroyed in the same way each time, every boss has its own weakness that you must discover and exploit.  Also very special to this game is the chance to do more than just fly the awesome Arwing ship.  There are two planets on which you will need a tank-style fighter called the Landmaster.  There is also a small submarine, oh-so-creatively named The Blue Marine, that is used on a planet that is covered in water.
            Star Fox 64 is also very special due to your teammates.  Each one is voiced, and they all have some incredibly memorable lines that I’m sure the other members here could quote for days on end.  There are times when you will have to make the choice whether to save your teammates, or let them be defeated by the enemy for your own personal enjoyment.  Do you save the whiny frog, or the douchebag bird?  Each character has their own qualities that make them worth keeping around: Slippy provides a health meter for each boss, Peppy supplies information on certain enemy weak spots, and Falco… Well, umm… He helps you on the first level if you save his ass – You know what? Falco is a dick and you should let him get cooked like Thanksgiving dinner.
            I could end this post by telling you all the important life lessons that one learns while playing Star Fox 64.  Sure, it teaches you teamwork and the consequence of losing your friends, and also that sometimes it’s important to save the beaked jackass despite your eternal hatred for him.  But that isn’t what this blog is about.  Star Fox 64 supplies a very creative type of gameplay that still cannot be beat.  The story is epic. The characters are memorable.  The Lylat system needs help and only you can save it, Fox.  Good Luck. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Another Lame Look Back at Why We Love the Classics

Well it seems that since everyone else on this blog is talking about their favorite systems and games that I might as well join in. My favorite system and by far the best system ever made is the Nintendo Entertainment System. It may not be the most original choice of favorite system but I don’t give a shit. The NES is the America of video game systems, it is the best and deep down everyone knows it.

I am not entirely sure how this system became my favorite system considering it was already 6 years old by the time I was born. Which means at best I did not begin playing it until it was at least 10 years old. By today’s standards that would mean it was long obsolete. And yet all of my earliest memories of gaming revolve around this piece of 8-bit glory.

The haziest moments I can recall are of sitting in front of a television set for hours watching my siblings attempt to foil the evil plots of Bowser and Dr. Wily (or Wiley if you are playing Mega Man 3). I fell in love with the music, the graphics, and the characters of many of the classic NES games just from watching my siblings struggle to beat them. I practically lived for the moments when one of them would get frustrated and hand me the controller. Those brief 30 seconds or so I would survive (I was like 5 or 6 years old and lacked the hand eye coordination necessary to stop the vile red falcon) before falling down a pit and having to hand off the controller were worth every hour I spent waiting.

Since those early days my skill level has changed quite a bit (for the better), but my love for all things 8-bit has not. I would like to say that as the years passed I didn’t get sucked into new games and occasionally neglect my beloved regular Nintendo, but that just isn’t true. What I can say with honesty is that no matter what new fads or games I got sucked into I always found myself returning to the NES and I always will. My heart belongs to the 8-bit worlds of the Mushroom Kingdom, and Hyrule, and that is the way I like it.

I hope that through this blog I can help some of you rediscover, or even discover for the first time, some of the magic that the NES has to offer. There are game reviews and hopefully some humor to come. So stay tuned, and remember it’s dangerous to go alone, take this!

Why I love the Genesis

I lived a lonely, depressing childhood on most accounts. Oh, I had friends, I had had awesome friends, but without a car, and with mommy and daddy unable to drive me places all the time, I was stuck in the home. No kids my age lived on my street, just crack dealers and a home for the mentally insane. (You probably think I'm kidding. I'm not.) So I mostly just played with my toys. That’s all there was. Going outside was dangerous and involved physical exertion, so there was no way I would take that route. I was a lazy kid. By age 5, I was done with toys, I would wake up and watch nickelodeon until I slept. My mom eventually made me do little league soccer, but that is a tale for another time.

Finally, I reached the ripened age of six years. My brother, who didn’t live with me, decided it was time to give me his old Sega Genesis. Oh how wonderful it was! I no longer had to watch tv day after day, watching as characters made decisions I wouldn’t make, cheated on the test when I knew they could easily have studied, or studying when I thought they should just cheat. I was finally in control. I was Sonic The Hedgehog, and it was MY responsibility to make sure he survived his journey past lava, through tunnels, and over flamethrowers. As time went on, I too acquired and played more games. I had no friends close by, I didn’t play or care about sports. (I played little league soccer for a LONG time, but it wasn’t until I got decent that I actually cared. And by the time I got decent we had 2 Bosnians on our team. I did jack while the Bosnians went and won every game. Dang Bosnians.)

So, there were no kids nearby to play with. Ristar and Sonic were my companions. I can still remember the emotional experience playing Ristar was for me. I’d spend a whole day getting to the last boss, only to be humiliatingly killed and forced to start from the beginning. (Even though I knew the password for level select, it’s I LOVE U, duh.) I even asked my dad to help me with this stupid part in the third level, where you are briefly shown a pattern and then have to kill the enemies in the order you are shown. Every failure, every death, was MY fault. I cried over Ristar. I’m not ashamed to admit it. That game was an emotional roller coaster that has never been equaled in today’s world of Hi-tech 3d intense action games. That is truly beautiful. That Genesis taught me leadership and responsibility for each and every failure I made. But more importantly, it was my friend when I had none. While the Mentally insane people stole our newspaper every morning because the wrapper was orange, I was inside; safe, and learning life lessons while blowing up robots. And that is wonderful.

Many years later, kids moved in across the street, and I finally had kids to play outside with. And I did, so don’t think that I'm pathetic or anything. But nothing comes close to the years I spent sitting on the floor in my parents bedroom, playing genesis by myself. And sadly, nothing ever will.

(P.S. I own ristar on every system it’s been released on since. And I can beat the last boss without being hit. Just an FYI.)

Hello Friends, Now I Would Like to Talk About My Favorite Game

The second game I ever played on the Xbox was the Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind (released in 2002). The third installment in Bethesda's critically acclaimed Elder Scrolls series found it's way into my hands via my neighbor at the time. He was friends with my brother, Ben, and had recently broken his leg or something. His mom signed him up for Blockbuster's all-games pass to ease the recovery period (seeing as he couldn't go outside and play basketball or football on a broken limb). The all-games pass was a rental program that you could sign up for at Blockbuster that essentially let you rent games for free as much as you wanted. It was rad. Anyway, said neighbor pretty much rented every game for the Xbox at the time and my brother would borrow them from him when he was done with them. It was tight. One saturday morning, I went down to the basement (where the Xbox was hooked up to that old TV from the 70's) and saw another few games that I hadn't seen yet.
You had me at ancient runes...

The one the most caught my attention was Morrowind. The cover resembled an aged sandstone carving and had some kind of engraving on it. It had kickass RPG written all over it.

I was right. The moment I put the game in, it happened: hour upon hour of my life was taken in one moment. As the disc spun inside that infernal, black machine, thousands of future assignments and chores were left undone. This game would consume me. I didn't know it at the time, but I had just put in my favorite game of all time.

The game begins in a prison ship. Your character, a prisoner, is awoken from a restless sleep and told that the ship has reached Morrowind. A guard escorts your character off of the ship and into a swampy port town. There, the character is processed by a robed bureaucrat (this is the character creation process of the game). After that, you pass through a room filled with objects to interact with. I was amazed when I first played: almost every item could be picked up and put in the inventory (and thus sold in classic RPG fashion). Hot action! Passing through that room (after a good, healthy looting) led you to a guard captain who tells you why you were freed from bondage and what you are to do now that you are free.
Kickin' rad paper map that came with the game.

From there, you are free to do whatever you want. Disregard the orders. No one will stop you. After that brief introduction you can go adventuring, steal items, sell items, kill mudcrabs, kill citizens, train your skills, join a guild, join another guild, join yet another guild, explore the countryside, explore ancient ruins, search for treasure...

What was I supposed to be doing again?

I don't recall ever finishing the actual main quest line until much later in life. I was in the 4th grade when the game came out, so I didn't have the patience or the drive to finish that doozy of a quest (it's really not too bad). There were bandits to kill, vaults to crack, and governments to topple. It took me years of my life to discover just a fraction of what the game offered. I still put that game in and find new things (new quests, new items, new places).

Even though I can essentially bend the stat system over a table and make it my whore, I still love playing that game. It's got a unique setting unlike any other RPG I've ever played and that is what made it so fun to play. The game was chock full of lore and backstory. There was a real life to the world. Sadly, by today's standards it takes some imagination to play, but I whole-heartedly recommend giving it a go. Immerse yourself in it: you may find yourself hooked on a near-endless adventure like I did all those years ago.

Last Chance to Reason Will Rock You Sonically and Visually... and probably in the pants too

I love video games.  I also love metal.  When these two things combine, I’m probably the happiest guy in my apartment complex.  Say hello to a cool band called Last Chance to Reason.  They are a metal band from Maine (that’s a state way up on the northeast point of the US for those who flunked geography in middle school).  They also have an intense love for games of the past, particularly: Super Metroid, Contra, Metal Slug, and R-Type.  To prove this love, their next album will include a brand new video game for listeners to play while enjoying the album.  That’s right, the band’s music is the soundtrack for the game.  If that isn’t badass, I don’t know what is.

The music itself is in the same vein as Between the Buried and Me.  They have very proggy parts mixed with very electro parts, all while showing respect for past prog-metal greats like King Crimson and Meshuggah.  While they have only released a few songs from the upcoming album “Level 2”, they are garnering a lot of attention.  

The band has released a teaser trailer that displays both the gameplay and their music that will be featured in the game.  Personally, I think the idea of a concept album blended with a video game is a genius idea.  I don't know how the masses will take it, or if it will really be understood.  Needless to say, however, I'm very psyched about this.

Monday, October 18, 2010

SNES Memories

My first system was the SNES. A number of my siblings pitched in for it, and it lived down in the basement. Hooked up to an old TV from the 70's that never left channel 3, that old SNES entertained us hour after hour. Once I was old enough to hold a controller, I played. That system was special to me, and it formed the basis of many of my favorite memories.

One of my oldest recollections involves playing Super Mario World. In fact, that's the first game I remember playing. It had action and bright colors to keep me interested, lots of challenging levels and worlds to keep me occupied, and a nice two-player mode so I could play it with my brother, Brian. It remains a game that I still pop into my system and play once and a while.

I remember the first time I saw F-Zero. My brother, Carl, brought it home along with Mortal Kombat II one day (to this day, I'm really unsure of where he procured them but I think it was some shady shenanigans that brought those gems into my life...). I was mesmerized by the futuristic setting and kick-ass music.

Out of the two, Mortal Kombat II was the game I played much more of, however. At the time I was already a Power Rangers addict, so Mortal Kombat was the next logical step in the progression. I loved the outlandish characters and the gritty stages; I loved the bloody gibs that flew out on each strike and the anguished screams of unlucky fatality victims (usually me). That game turned me into a wonderful, well-adjusted child who grew up to be a perfectly sane adult.

I played most of the classic SNES games throughout my childhood. Donkey Kong Country, Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past, and Earthbound all found their way into my heart. I owe myself to them. They were companions in a lonely neighborhood. They were playmates to me, a crippled kid cooped up in the basement alone while his siblings were out playing football. They were exciting escapades in a boring, generic midwestern suburb where walking to the 7-11 was the greatest adventure that could be had.

My mind was always on those games. I'd play Mortal Kombat on the trampoline with my brother (trampoline fighting is badass). During recess, I would mope around the playground pretending it was a dungeon from Legend of Zelda (damn, I must have hated recess). I built Megaman stages out of blocks, Mario levels out of legos. Even when I didn't have a controller in my hand, I had a controller in my heart.

That SNES is gone now. I don't know what happened to it exactly. My mom must have tossed it out one day. It probably happened after we got the N64 (another worthy system). Today, I desperately try to reclaim those memories. I visit the local used game stores in order to piece together my childhood. As the games fill my shelves, I realize the futility of it all. I can't get those memories back. All I can do is make new memories that hold as much magic as the old ones did. As difficult as that prospect is, I press start to begin.